National Academy of Engineering Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 10
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Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 10

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             H.JOSEPH GERBER                                           95
                             H.JOSEPH GERBER
                               BY ANTHONY J.DEMARIA
                H.JOSEPH GERBER, founder, board chairman, former chief executive
            officer, and president of Gerber Scientific, Inc. of South Windsor, Connecticut,
            died August 8, 1996, at a hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. He was seventy-two
            years old.
                Joe was born on April 7, 1924, in Vienna, Austria. He became a U.S. citizen
            in 1945. He was imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp at age fifteen, and came to the
            United States from Vienna about 1940. He arrived with few possessions and
            without a strong command of English. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic
            Institute in Troy, New York, with a B.S. degree in aeronautical engineering in
            1946. He started inventing new measurement and calculation tools while in
            college. In 1948 Joe founded Gerber Scientific with about $3,000. The company,
            based in South Windsor, Connecticut, now employees about 28,000 people and
            had revenues of just under $600 million in fiscal year 1999. He is survived by his
            wife, whom he married in 1953, a son, who is a director and a vice-president of
            business development and technology strategy at Gerber Scientific, and a
            daughter. Mr. Gerber is a classic rags-to-tech-riches story. He had over 648 U.S.
            and foreign patents issued in his name.
                As a junior at Rensselaer, he invented a graphical numerical computer called
            the Gerber Variable Scale. At the time, it was called the most revolutionary
            engineering tool since the slide rule. It was the first product to launch the Gerber
             H.JOSEPH GERBER                                           96
             Instrument Company. For nearly five decades, Joe Gerber was the driving force
             behind Gerber Scientific’s evolution from a one-product company to a major
            supplier of intelligent manufacturing systems. Today, Gerber Scientific, Inc.
            comprises the following wholly owned subsidiaries:
                 •   Gerber Coburn, the world leader in ophthalmic lens processing systems.
                 •   Gerber Scientific Products, the world leader in the development and
                   manufacture of computerized sign making and specialty graphics
                   systems, software, materials, and accessories.
                 •   Spandex, the leading global distributor of high-performance software and
                   equipment for the sign making and specialty graphics industry.
                 •   Gerber Technology, the world leader in advanced computer-aided design
                   and manufacturing systems for producing industrial, commercial, and
                   retail sewn goods.
                 •   Gerber Innovations, the world leader in steel rule die production systems
                   for the packaging industry.
                On September 14, 1994, H.Joseph Gerber was awarded our nation’s highest
             honor for technological achievement, the National Medal of Technology, for his
             contributions toward advancing manufacturing technology through his many
             inventions and for his significant contributions to our nation’s economic
             competitiveness. The citation for Mr. Gerber’s award reads: “For his past and
             continuing technical leadership in the invention, development and
             commercialization of manufacturing automation systems for a wide variety of
             industries—most notably apparel— that have made those industries more
            efficient and cost-effective in today’s worldwide competitive environment.” The
            award was bestowed by Vice President Al Gore.
                In nominating Mr. Gerber for the award, Roland W.Schmitt, president
            emeritus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said, “It is my belief that this
            dynamic individual embodies the very essence of what the award represents; he is a
            prolific inventor, a successful entrepreneur, and a highly accomplished engineer.”
                On June 8, 1995, Joe Gerber was awarded Connecticut’s first
             H.JOSEPH GERBER                                           97
             Annual Connecticut Medal of Technology. Professor D.Allan Bromley of Yale
             University, chairman of the selection committee, stated that Mr. Gerber was
             presented Connecticut’s First Medal of Technology Award for “His extraordinary
            achievements in commercialization of technology in one or more of the areas of
            process and product innovation management that has made a significant
            difference in Connecticut’s industrial competitiveness.”
                For nearly a quarter of a century, Mr. Gerber made exceptional
            technological contributions that rank among the milestones in the history of the
            textile industry. The innovation for which Joe Gerber is best known is the
            GERBERcutter®, which automatically cuts large quantities of material with a
            computer controlled knife and is considered to be the industries single most
            important advancement in this century. The American Apparel Manufacturer’s
            Association has stated that the GERBERcutter® was a significant weapon in the
            apparel industry’s ongoing fight for market share against low-wage imports.
            Furthermore, his inventions played a major role in allowing the apparel industry
            to maintain a large and diverse domestic production base, providing jobs for
            thousands of Americans.
                In addition to the invention of the Variable Scale graphical computer in the
            1940s, he also invented the Derivemeter, which gives the derivative of a graph or
            curve, the Equameter, which gives the equation of a curve, and the Graph
            Analogue, an improved version of the variable scale in the 1950s.
                The first production unit of the GERBERcutter® is now in the possession of
            the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
            The unit was originally sold to General Motors Fisher Body Division in 1970 and
            for more than twenty-two years was in continuous operation cutting car seat
            covers and other soft goods for automobile interiors. Three of Mr. Gerber’s
            original scientific instruments are also in the permanent collection of the National
            Museum of American History. All three artifacts—the Variable Scale, Graph
            Analogue, and Derivemeter—were on display in the museum exhibition titled
            “Information Age: People, Information, and Society” in 1994.
             H.JOSEPH GERBER                                           98
                In recognition of his technical contributions, Joe Gerber was awarded an
            honorary doctor of engineering degree by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in
            1981 and by the University of New Haven in 1990. He was elected to the
            National Academy of Engineering in 1982. His citation read: “By combining
            pragmatism with imagination, and hard work with optimism, he has become one
            of American’s most prolific and successful inventors.” He was elected to
            membership of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering in 1983.
            He was a recipient of the Connecticut Patent Law Association’s Tenth Annual
            Eli Whitney Award in 1980, the Holden Medal for his outstanding contribution to
            the advancement of technology in the apparel industry in 1983, the ORT Science
            and Technology Award in 1988, the Lifetime Achievement Award in
            Entrepreneurial Management in 1989, and the Companion Membership Award of
            the Textile Institute in 1993.
                Dr. Gerber served on the board of directors of the following organizations:
            Boston Digital Corporation in Milford, Massachusetts; Beta Engineering and
            Development Ltd., Been Sheva, Israel; and the Phoenix Mutual Insurance
            Company in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a trustee for the Hartford Graduate
            Center in Hartford, and an honoree trustee of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
            in Troy, New York.
             H.JOSEPH GERBER                                                   99
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